Feature Article - April 2003
Find a printable version here

Staff Strategies

How to hire, manage and keep great employees despite the generation gaps

By Margaret Ahrweiler


They come to you with piercings, with tattoos, with cell phones ringing. Their family time is important. Their personal time is important. Their job, perhaps, is not. They keep their lawyer's name on their PDAs. A human resources nightmare? No, just the latest crop of employees.

Hiring—and keeping—quality workers is never easy, but the challenge has grown. Managers now face the dilemma of four different generations of employees under one roof. And the youngest is both the largest and most vexing. The latest generation of employees is driving almost every human resource and staffing issue: recruitment, training, management, appearance issues and retention. Fortunately, with clear policy, a strong sense of direction and a constant reminder that they're generally OK human beings, you can build a standout staff no matter what their age.

In the recreation and fitness industry, an army of the young runs the front lines. At many facilities, up to 80 percent of the work force is born after 1980, with most of those working on a seasonal basis.

Two cases in point: At the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District in Shawnee Mission, Kan., for example, between 68 and 75 percent of the workers are seasonal. The district hires about 500 summer workers every year, and the vast majority are teens and young adults, according to Mary Miller, Johnson County's human resources director. Likewise, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Houston employs a year-round staff of 25 full-timers and 75 part-timers, then adds 250 seasonals in the summer.

"It's uncommon to get anyone over age 25," says Jordan Shenker, the JCC's assistant executive director.

Who are they?

To get a handle on hiring, managing and retaining, employers need to understand this group, which researcher Robert Wendover has termed the "Millennials."

According to Wendover, director of the Aurora, Colo.-based Center for Generational Studies, they are a product of their time: used to an array of choices, they use "menu-driven" thinking dependent on everything laid out in front of them. They've mastered the art of "working the system," getting that grade changed or punishment averted. Their lives have been structured to capacity by parents who have run their schedules off a wall calendar since birth. They embrace technology, with skills exceeding every other generation's. They are stimulation junkies, raised on fast-cut television and Web surfing. Yet unlike their independence-minded Boomer and Generation X parents, they place a high value on family, fairness and belonging to a group, says Tina Dittmar, staff supervisor for the recreation department of the City of Laguna Niguel, Calif.